I went to church yesterday for the first time since eighth grade when I attended Catholic school. It wasn’t my choice to go to a church yesterday, just like it wasn’t my choice to go in eighth grade. Yesterday, I went to the funeral.
I’m not Catholic. I’ve never been Catholic, but I went to Catholic school for a few years. There were a few things that I had, maybe intentionally, forgotten about the Catholic church in the intervening, joyous period since I last attended. As a friend said, it’s like muscle memory; it all comes flooding back. I even remembered the words to the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer. I remembered the difference between that version and the Presbyterian version that I had to repeat at the church that my family attended. Yesterday, I didn’t speak the words out loud, but they ran through my head anyway.
I’d forgotten about how much standing up and sitting down there is involved in attending a mass. For some reason, you stand during some songs and sit during others. There are a lot of prompts you’re supposed to know the answers to as well. Those did not come flooding back to me since, even when I was forced to attend mass during school hours every Wednesday, because I was not Catholic, I wasn’t really allowed to take part. There was one other kid besides me in my school who had the misfortune, according to them, of not being Catholic. We were segregated from the herd and placed in the almost heathen section at the back of the church. So close to the exit, but oh, so far away.
We non-Catholics weren’t supposed to genuflect, stand up, sit down or kneel. Not being able to move at all is far worse than all that standing and sitting. Those pews are far from comfortable. We weren’t required to say the words at the prompts except for The Lord’s Prayer. Everyone should know The Lord’s Prayer, they reasoned. We didn’t take communion. We weren’t allowed to do our homework or read a book. We sat there unable to do anything for an hour every week, just looking straight ahead with our hands folded in our laps. And to make sure that we weren’t doing anything naughty, we had a nun stationed directly behind us, boring holes in the back of our skulls with her laser eyes.
Personally, I think the reason they make you stand up so much is so that you won’t fall asleep. I fell asleep once during church and was promptly awakened by my disgruntled babysitter with a smack to the back of the head.
As I sat there yesterday on that uncomfortable seat wearing a dark suit with sweat dripping down my face in a non-air conditioned church in the height of the August heat, I had little choice but to remember my Catholic school days. I was painfully and vividly reminded of why I never thought about them anymore. It seems to me that the church likes you to suffer for your salvation.
As hot as it was, I was expecting that all of my heathen friends and I would somehow spontaneously combust. There were more atheists and irreligious folks in that Catholic church than they had probably ever had before. When it came time for communion, in a church of a hundred or more people, only roughly a dozen of them went up.
The discomfort and boredom of the spectacle made me realize just how lucky I am to not have that as a part of my life anymore. That I don’t have to waste an hour in a hot room with no ventilation listening to someone I could barely hear spewing things I don’t really care about made me realize just how glad I am that I don’t believe in god.
I remembered, at school, how happy I was when mass was over since it meant that I wouldn’t have to go back there until next Wednesday. It meant a whole week before I had to stare blankly ahead for an hour watching backs of heads stand up, sit down, kneel, take communion, cross themselves, greet their neighbors, respond to prompts and repeat words in a monotone voice all while I was generally bored out of my mind. And, yesterday, I experienced that same sense of relief and joy as I walked out of that church and peeled off my sweat-drenched suit jacket from my sticky, tattooed arms. The difference is, this time, I knew I wouldn’t have to go back.